Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Distributed: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, March 1, 1940
Production: Began early October 1939
Copyright: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, March 8, 1940; LP9651
Opened: Albee, Brooklyn, NY, the week of February 25, 1940
Sound: Western Electric Noiseless Recording
Film: Black and white
Length: 8 reels; 6,061 feet
Running Time: 67 minutes
Production Code Administration certificate number: 5892
Song: “Vereda Tropical” (music and lyrics by Gonzalo Curiel) (not credited)
Source: “Based on the character ‘Charlie Chan’ created by Earl Derr Biggers”
Executive Producer: Sol M. Wurtzel
Director: Norman Foster
Assistant Director: Saul Wurtzel
Original Screenplay: John Larkin and Lester Ziffren
Director of Photography: Virgil Miller
Art Direction: Richard Day and Chester Gore
Film Editor: Fred Allen
Set Decorations: Thomas Little
Costumes: Helen A. Myron
Musical Direction: Samuel Kaylin
Sound: Joseph E. Aiken and William H. Anderson
CAST (as credited):
Sidney Toler: Charlie Chan (also posing as Fu Yuen)
Jean Rogers: Kathi Lenesch (also known as Kathi von Tzardas and Baroness von Tzardas)
Lionel Atwill: Clivedon Compton
Mary Nash: Miss Sarah Finch (billed as Miss Jennie Finch; aka Reiner)
Sen Yung: Jimmy Chan
Kane Richmond: Richard Cabot
Chris-Pin Martin: Lieutenant Montero (billed as Sergeant Montero)
Lionel Royce: Dr. Rudolph Grosser
Helen Ericson: Stewardess
Jack La Rue: [Emil] Manolo (aka Ramon Gonzalez)
Edwin Stanley: Governor [DC] Webster (also known as Colonel DC Webster)
Don Douglas: Captain Lewis
Frank Puglia: Achmed Halide
Addison Richards: [RJ] Godley
Edward Keane: Dr. Fredericks
UNCREDITED CAST (alphabetical) :
Eddie Acuff: Sailor
Jimmy Aubrey: Drunk at Club
Brooks Benedict: Nightclub Dancer
Lane Chandler: Officer at Powerhouse
Russell Custer: Soldier
Alan Davis: Soldier
Alphonso DuBois: Waiter
Franklin Farnum: Marine Officer
Edward Gargan: Plant Worker
Harold Goodwin: Military Police Corporal
Sol Gorss: Soldier
Bobby Hale: Prisoner
Chuck Hamilton: Dancer
Alberto Morin: Hotel San Pablo Desk Clerk
Philip Morris: Plainclothesman
Anthony Natale: Street Vendor
Gloria Roy: Hostess
Charles Sherlock: Soldier
Bhogwan Singh: Prisoner
Charles Stevens: Spy on Dock
Sid Troy: Sailor
Max Wagner: Soldier
As the US fleet prepares to pass through the Panama Canal, Panama City becomes a city of spies. A seaplane load of suspicious characters lands in Balboa, arriving from Cristobal on the Atlantic side of the isthmus. Among the group are British novelist Clivedon Compton, Miss Sarah Finch, a schoolmarm from Chicago, sinister scientist Dr. Rudolph Grosser, cabaret owner Emil Manolo, singer Kathi Lenesch, tobacco store owner Achmed Halide, US government engineer Richard Cabot, and American government agent R. J. Godley.
Upon landing, Godley goes to a Panama hat shop that is owned by Fu Yuen, who is actually Charlie Chan, working for US intelligence. Godley, seeking Chan’s help to identify and capture a deadly spy and saboteur known as Reiner, suddenly dies just as he was about to give the Oriental detective some valuable information. Chan must now work on his own to expose Reiner before the spy can sabotage the Panama Canal, thus trapping the US fleet.
Chan, still in the guise of Fu Yuen, is taken to jail because of the suspicious death of Godley in his shop, where he finds his second son, Jimmy, who has gotten himself arrested on suspicion of being a spy. Once out of jail, father and son work together to solve the mystery of Reiner’s identity and save the fleet.
Two other suspects are killed; first Compton in his hotel room, and later, Manolo, who was on the run from the police.
While searching for clues at a cemetery, Charlie Chan, Jimmy, Miss Finch, and Captain Lewis, a US intelligence officer, become trapped in a tomb. While in the tomb, a number of large empty cans are discovered. Chan determines that the cans contained a very high explosive, which he now feels will be used to destroy the channel. After hours of being trapped, the group finally makes its escape and hurries to the Miraflores locks which, Chan has determined, have been targeted for destruction at ten o’clock that night.
As the hour of destruction approaches, all personnel at the Miraflores powerhouse are evacuated. Before the group of suspects can exit the facility, Chan stops them, holding them all at gunpoint. With each passing minute, individuals in the group become more overcome with fear. Finally, as the fateful moment arrives, the murderer, in a desperate attempt to escape, pulls out a gun. To the surprise of most everyone, Miss Finch reveals herself to be Reiner. As she flees through a door, she is captured by authorities who were waiting outside, obviously privy to the plot of Charlie Chan, who had shortly before discovered and disarmed the explosive device.
NOTES: Charlie Chan in Panama provides a glimpse at the stresses experienced by the United States in the stages that led to the eventual entry of our nation into World War II. At this point, the United States was “neutral” in the war which had already begun in both Europe and in the Far East. We note the hints throughout the movie as to the identities of the hostile nations, although no definite references are provided in the interest of appearing neutral. Film footage containing sequences of US Navy warships, including the USS Arizona and USS Lexington passing through the Panama Canal, is seen in this picture.
Adapted from: AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE CATALOG – Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911-1960
CHARLIE CHAN’S APHORISMS
Thousand friends too few.
One enemy one too many.
Man without relatives is man without troubles.
Absence of proof open cell door.
Perhaps better to let cat out of bag than drown same.
When prepared for worst, can hope for best.
Young brain, like grass, need dew of sleep.
Truth wins more friendship than lies.
Bad alibi like dead fish – cannot stand test of time.
No heart strong enough to hold bullet.
Gun can be made to talk.
Marks left by gun barrel on bullet like fingerprints.
Features familiar as markings on bad penny.
Nerves make time crawl backward.
Dividing line between folly and wisdom very faint in dark tomb.
Patience lead to knowledge.
Caution much safer than daring.
Time bomb without electric arteries cannot speak.
Intelligent defense of nation best guarantee for years of peace.
OTHER WORTHY STATEMENTS:
In Panama, walls equipped with eyes as well as ears. (To RJ Godley)
(Jimmy: “How’d you know it was me?”) Frequent spankings have made favorite son’s anatomy most familiar. (Following his slapping Jimmy on his behind him after having seen him only from that position)
Godley and Reiner play cat-and-mouse game, and mouse strike first. (To Governor D.C. Webster)
If [canal] lock does not function, battleship caught like fish in trap. (To Governor DC Webster)
Very difficult to smile. Death visit my humble shop today. (To Manolo, spoken as Fu Yuen)
On the soil of democracy you are safe from persecution. (To Kathi Lenesch)
Inside pocket like vault of National Bank. (To Kathi Lenesch)
Gun can be made to talk. (Regarding the comparison of “rifling marks”)
(Miss Finch: “Why, it’s your son!”) Features familiar as markings on bad penny.
Even in graveyard, they are forgettable angels and fools. (To Miss Finch and Captain Lewis regarding Jimmy)
Like actress intoxicated by success, lady overplayed part. (To all, regarding Miss Finch)
Variety, February 21, 1940
This latest Chan whodunit is a real chiller and ranks high among the many turned out. Picture definitely tags Sidney Toler as worthy of carrying on the role that the late Warner Oland made a screen fixture. There’s less of that slow-motion delivery Toler showed before. He makes it a distinct characterization even in the face of alert competition from ‘honorable No. 2 son.’ Production has patterned for enough time on the screen to fill out a double-feature bill, where it will lend strong support.
Exhibitor should not overlook the story’s timeliness, centering about a plot to destroy part of the Panama Canal and trap the fleet going through on maneuvers. Added to this is a long array of continental spies.
Scripters John Larkin and Lester Ziffren have skillfully fastened suspicion on six different characters and then made the discovery of the mysterious German spy, Ryner, the seventh and long-sought suspect. They have done this without permitting too much of it to seem unreasonable. Fable is vastly helped by Norman Foster’s direction, former screen player apparently having won his spurs in directing. He has fashioned a whole series of suspenseful moments without making the developments seem ludicrous.
Toler dominates every scene once he’s introduced working for the army intelligence disguised as a hat store proprietor. He is tremendously effectual in the well-conceived climax when the destruction of the canal locks seems to hang on his ability to force a confession from one of five suspects. Sen Yung makes the ‘No. 2 are’ highly important character.
Jack La Rue, as a nightclub operator and one of the menaces, contributes probably his best recent performance. Frank Puglia, another suspect, is good. Jean Rogers, as the Czech refugee showgirl, adds a nice minor role while Mary Nash, as the supposedly innocent schoolmarm, chips in with a topflight portrayal.
DATE: July 15-16, 1939 (Saturday and Sunday) (Evidence: The date written on RJ Godley’s Trans-Panama Air Line ticket – “7-15”)
DURATION: Two days
LOCATIONS: Panama City, Panama, and Balboa, Panama Canal Zone
THE SIGN SHOW NEAR THE DOCK IN CRISTOBAL:
THE WORDING ON FOUR CRATES SEEN ON THE DOCK:
“MARINE EXPORTING CO.
“SANG HOP CO.
“YEE SING CHANG CO.
THE SHIP THAT WAS BEING PHOTOGRAPHED BY THE ENEMY SPY ON THE DOCK: USS Indianapolis (CV-35)
THE NAME OF THE AIRLINE USED TO TRANSPORT PASSENGERS WITHIN THE PANAMA CANAL ZONE: Trans-Panama Airways
THE ORIGIN OF THE TRANS-PANAMA AIRLINES FLIGHT: Cristobal
THE DESTINATION OF THE TRANS-PANAMA AIRWAYS FLIGHT: Balboa
THE ARRIVAL TIMES FOR BALBOA, ACCORDING TO THE POSTED SEAPLANE SCHEDULE FOR TRANS-PANAMA AIRWAYS:
MISS FINCH’S STATED PROFESSION: “For eighteen years I’ve been teaching the students of Chicago the mysteries of algebra and geometry.”
THE NAME OF THE PERSON FOR WHOM SR. MANOLO MISTAKES RICHARD CABOT: Mack
THE PORT FROM WHICH MISS FINCH AND RJ GODLEY HAD SAILED FOR PANAMA: New York City
RJ GODLEY’S EVENTUAL DESTINATION: San Francisco, California
ACCORDING TO THE STEWARDESS, THE TIME REMAINING UNTIL THE SEAPLANE’S DEPARTURE: “…five minutes.’
ACCORDING TO ACHMED HALIDE, THE NAME OF MR. MANOLO’S BARBER WHO WAS IN JAIL FOR ESPIONAGE: Felipe
THE TYPE OF AIRPLANE USED BY TRANS-PANAMA AIRWAYS: Douglas “Dolphin” flying boat
ACCORDING TO THE STEWARDESS DURING THE FLIGHT, THE TIME UNTIL ARRIVAL IN BALBOA: “…20 minutes…”
THE SIGN SEEN BY PASSENGERS ON ARRIVAL IN BALBOA:
THE SIGN ON THE SHOP ACROSS THE STREET FROM FU YUEN’S PANAMA HAT SHOP:
THE NAME OF THE TAXI COMPANY: Taximetro
THE SIGN ON THE PANAMA HAT STORE WINDOW RUN BY CHARLIE CHAN AS “FU YUEN”:
THE SIGN WORN BY THE STREET GUITAR PLAYER: “Ciego” (“Blind”)
ACCORDING TO RJ GODLEY, TWO CRIMES COMMITTED BY THE SECRET AGENT “REINER”: “…sabotaged the Eldredge Drydock…crashed the 409…”
THE TEXT AS PRINTED ON RJ GODLEY’S TRANS-PANAMA AIRWAYS TICKET ENVELOPE:
THE TYPE OF PASSPORT CARRIED BY RJ GODLEY: Diplomatic
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, SON JIMMY’S SUMMER JOB: “…working as steward on boat during college vacation.”
THE REASON THAT JIMMY CHAN WAS STRANDED IN PANAMA: His ship sailed to New York without him as he was in jail under suspicion of espionage because of photographs that he had innocently taken.
JIMMY CHAN’S DATE OF ARRIVAL IN PANAMA: The morning of July 15, as his boat had “docked in Balboa this morning.”
THE MILITARY DOCTOR’S STATED AUTOPSY RESULTS FOR RJ GODLEY RELATING TO THE CAUSE OF DEATH: “Concentrated poison in both lungs.”
THE TYPE OF POISON THAT KILLED RJ GODLEY: Boanide (Charlie Chan: “Most deadly when inhaled with smoke from cigarette.”)
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, REINER’S CRIME “SIGNATURE”: “…unusual method of causing death…”
ACCORDING TO COLONEL WEBSTER, THE PLANNED ARRIVAL OF THE US FLEET AT THE PANAMA CANAL: “…in the next 18 hours…”
PANAMA CANAL LOCATIONS MENTIONED BY COLONEL WEBSTER: “…Cristobal at …the Atlantic Gate.” “(The fleet)…must pass through the Gatun Locks, the Gaillard Cut, the Pedro Miguel, and the Miraflores Locks” (to reach the Pacific battle stations).
THE PASSENGER LIST FOR THE TRANS-PANAMA AIRWAYS FLIGHT:
THE AGE OF MISS FINCH, ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN: “…young maiden of 50 summers or more.”
CHARLIE CHAN’S SHORT DESCRIPTION OF DR. GROSSER: “Viennese scientist.”
THE INFORMATION OFFERED REGARDING DR. GROSSER BY JIMMY CHAN TO HIS POP: “We studied Grosser in our biology class. He’s an expert on tropical diseases and plagues.”
THE NAME OF THE HOTEL ACROSS THE STREET FROM FU YUEN’S PANAMA HAT SHOP WHERE DR. RUDOLPH GROSSER LIVED AND WORKED: Hotel San Miguel
THE NAME OF CLIVEDEN COMPTON’S HOTEL: Hotel San Pablo
THE FOUR SIGNS SHOW AT THE LOCATION OF DR. GROSSER’S LABORATORY:
THE LABEL SEEN ON THE RAT CAGE IN DR. GROSSER’S LABORATORY:
THE SIGN ON AN UPSTAIRS CURTAIN IN MANOLO’S CABARET:
KATHI LENESCH’S NATIONALITY: Czech
THE TITLE OF THE SONG SUNG BY KATHI LENESCH AT MANOLO’S CABARET: “Vereda Tropical” (“Tropical Path”)\
THE SIGN AND THE HANDWRITTEN WRITTEN MESSAGE BELOW IT ON THE HOSTESSES’ DRESSING ROOM DOOR AT MANOLO’S CABARET:
KATHI LENESCH’S POLICE RECORD PHOTOGRAPH THAT WAS FOUND BY CLIVEDON COMPTON IN MANOLO’S OFFICE:
CHARLIE CHAN’S CURRENT DETECTIVE RANK: Lieutenant (Honolulu Police Department)
THE NOTE WRITTEN BY CLIVEDEN COMPTON ON HIS BUSINESS CARD:
CLIVEDEN COMPTON’S ROOM NUMBER AT THE HOTEL SAN PABLO: 35
THE BEVERAGE ORDERED BY CHARLIE CHAN AT THE RESTAURANT AT THE HOTEL SAN PABLO: Coffee
JIMMY CHAN’S SPORT IN COLLEGE (PRESUMABLY THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA): Baseball (Jimmy Chan: “They’re going to let me pitch next year.”)
THE TITLE OF THE BOOK FROM WHICH THE PAGE CONTAINING THE HAND-DRAWN MAP SHOWING THE “OLD PANAMA CEMETERY” CAME: “Henley’s Guide to Panama”
THE NAME OF THE CEMETERY VISITED BY CHARLIE CHAN AND CAPT. LEWIS: St. Carmen Cemetery
ACHMED HALIDE’S NATIONALITY: Egyptian
THE PASS PRESENTED BY THE “WATER DELIVERY MAN” TO THE GUARD AT THE MIRAFLORES LOCKS POWER HOUSE:
THE COMPANY NAME AS PAINTED ON THE SIDE OF THE WATER DELIVERY TRUCK: “COMPANY OF PURE WATER”
THE NAME OF THE PERSON AT THE MIRAFLORES POWER HOUSE WHO WAS TO SIGN FOR THE WATER DELIVERY: Joe
THE CURRENT TIME SEEN ON THE CLOCK USED TO DETONATE THE BOMB: 4:15 (pm)
THE TIME SET FOR THE BOMB TO EXPLODE: 10:00 (pm)
US NAVY SHIPS SHOW PASSING THROUGH THE PANAMA CANAL:
USS Arizona (BB-39)
USS Lexington (CV-2)
USS Tracy (DD-214) and USS Dahlgren (DD-187), as well
as two other Town-class destroyers in the background
THE TIME, ACCORDING TO COLONEL WEBSTER, THAT CHARLIE CHAN AND CAPT. WEBSTER HAT LEFT HIS OFFICE: “They left at eleven this morning.”
THE TIME AS NOTED BY CHARLIE CHAN WHILE INSIDE THE CEMETERY TOMB: “Eight-fifteen (pm).”
THE TIME, ACCORDING TO GOVERNOR WEBSTER, AS THE FLEET ENTERED THE PANAMA CANAL: “The fleet began entry four hours ago.” (stated at about 8:30 or 9 pm, making the time that the fleet began to enter the channel about 4:30 or 5 pm)
THE TIME AS SHOW ON THE TIME BOMB AS CHARLIE CHAN AND RICHARD CABOT ENTER THE MIRAFLORES POWERHOUSE: 9:45 pm
THE EXACT TIME SHOWED ON THE “POSTAL TELEGRAPH” CLOCK AFTER GOVERNOR WEBSTER ORDERS EVERYONE OUT OF THE POWERHOUSE: 9:48:34…
THE TIME AS THE MILITARY POLICE BRING MISS FINCH, ACHMED HALIDE, AND KATHI MENESCH INTO THE ROOM CONTAINING THE TIME BOMB TO BE QUESTIONED BY CHARLIE CHAN: 9:49 pm
THE TIME AS CHARLIE CHAN DETAINS THE SUSPECTS INSIDE THE ROOM WHERE THE TIME BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED: 9:55 pm
THE APPROXIMATE TIME AS MISS FINCH IS REVEALED AS REINER: 10:00 pm
TITLE OF THE SONG HEARD DURING THE FINAL SCENE AND CLOSING CREDITS: “Anchors Aweigh”
Balboa – A part of Panama City, located at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. It includes Balboa Harbor – the city’s main port – and is the location of the Canal Administration Building.
Clivedon Compton: “Stewardess, when shall we be in Balboa?”
blood and thunder novels – A term for popular adventure novels such as those in the pulp fiction realm.
Miss Finch: “…like one of those blood and thunder novels you write.”
boanide – A fictitious chemical mentioned by Charlie Chan as being “most deadly when inhaled with smoke from cigarette.”
Charlie Chan: “Poison called boanide?”
bubonic plague – A contagious, often fatal epidemic disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, transmitted from person to person or by the bite of fleas from an infected rodent, especially a rat, and characterized by chills, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and the formation of buboes.
Jimmy Chan: “Bubonic plague!”
cablegram – A telegram sent by trans-oceanic cable.
Stewardess: “Cablegram for Dr. Grosser.”
Cristobal– A Panamanian port city located at the entrance of Limon Bay that leads to the entrance to the eastern side of the Panama Canal.
Governor DC Webster: “Here’s our fleet, concentrated off Cristobal at the Atlantic gate.”
cuts no ice – (Idiom) Making no effect or impression.
Military Police Officer: “That cuts no ice here.”
dive – (Slang) A disreputable or run-down bar or nightclub.
Richard Cabot: “This is no place for you; why, it’s just a dive.”
dock – To withhold or deduct a part from one’s salary or wages.
Powerhouse Worker: Oh, they dock you, huh?
doped out – (Idiom) Figured out.
Jimmy Chan: “I have it all doped out.”
Gaillard Cut – The point at which the Panama Canal crosses the continental divide. The Gaillard Cut was the scene of some of the most arduous work during the construction of the canal.
Governor DC Webster: “To reach battle stations in the Pacific, the fleet’s full war compliment must pass through the Gatun Locks, the Gaillard Cut , the Pedro Miguel, and the Miraflores Locks.”
Gatun Locks – A series of three locks at the eastern entrance to the Panama Canal.
Governor DC Webster: “To reach battle stations in the Pacific, the fleet’s full war compliment must pass through the Gatun Locks, the Gaillard Cut, the Pedro Miguel, and the Miraflores Locks.”
humidor – A container designed for storing cigars or other tobacco products at a constant level of humidity.
Jimmy Chan: “Why, even this humidor has an English school emblem on it.”
Miraflores Locks – The locks located at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. The Miraflores Locks have the tallest gates in the Panama Canal system due to the great tidal fluctuation of the Pacific Ocean.
Governor DC Webster: “To reach battle stations in the Pacific, the fleet’s full war compliment must pass through the Gatun Locks, the Gaillard Cut, the Pedro Miguel, and the Miraflores Locks.“
MP – (Abbreviation) Military police. The branch of an armed force assigned to perform law enforcement duties, as on a military installation.
Notation on the armband of the Military Police Officer: “MP“
nifty – (Slang) First-rate; great.
Jimmy Chan: “Boy oh boy! Why don’t I think of children like that?”
nitroglycerin – A liquid appearing like a heavy oil, colorless or yellowish, and consisting of a mixture of several glycerin salts of nitric acid, and hence more properly called glycerin nitrate. It is made by the action of nitric acid on glycerin in the presence of sulfuric acid. It is extremely unstable and terribly explosive.
Miss Finch: “…I wondered if we could use a small portion of that nitroglycerin and blast our way out of here.”
Panama Canal Zone – A strip of land, about 10 miles (16 km) wide, across the Isthmus of Panama. Formerly administered by the United States for the operation of the Panama Canal, it was turned over to Panama in 1979.
Sign: “MILITARY RESERVATION PANAMA CANAL ZONE “
Panama City – The capital and largest city of Panama.
Emil Manolo: “You know, you will like Panama City.”
Panamas (Panama hats) – Natural-colored, hand-plaited hats made from leaves of the jipijapa plant of South and Central America. These hats come in many styles.
RJ Godley: “They tell me this fellow makes great Panamas .”
Pedro Miguel – The second-to-last lock encountered by ships heading toward the Pacific along the Panama Canal.
Governor DC Webster: “To reach battle stations in the Pacific, the fleet’s full war compliment must pass through the Gatun Locks, the Gaillard Cut, the Pedro Miguel , and the Miraflores Locks.”
pump – (Slang) To question closely or persistently.
Sailor: “This girl here, she’s trying to pump me about the fleet.”
rain check – A promise that an unaccepted offer will be renewed in the future. This term comes from baseball, where in the 1880s it became the practice to offer paying spectators a rain check entitling them to future admission for a game that was postponed or ended early owing to bad weather. By the early 1900s, the term was transferred to tickets for other kinds of entertainment, and later to a coupon entitling a customer to buy, at a later date and at the same price, a sale item temporarily out of stock.
Charlie Chan: “…must ask for rain check.”
screwy– (Informal) Odd or eccentric.
Jimmy Chan: “Sounds awful screwy to me.”
For a complete glossary list from all films, please visit our Charlie Chan Glossary.
PANAMA CANAL ZONE MAP
The complete words to “Vereda Tropical” as sung by Kathi Lenesch at Manolo’s Cabaret
I walk the tropical path
the night full of restlessness
with its perfume of humidity
And it’s the breeze that comes from the sea
you hear the murmur of a song
song of love and mercy.
With her I went night after night to the sea
to kiss her fresh mouth of love
And I swear to love myself more and more
without ever forgetting
those nights by the sea.
Today I can only remember
my eyes hurt from crying
and the soul dies of waiting.
Why did he leave?
you told her to go tropical path.
Make her come back to me
I want to kiss her mouth again by the sea.